Among the many things he’s known for, legendary animator Yoshinori Kanada left his mark on anime history with his innovative way of drawing effects : lightning, smokes and explosions. The most recognizable aspect of his style is the very angular way he has of animating them, as is visible in this cut from Sailor Moon S.
The lighting bolt that opens the cut takes on a variety of shapes and irregular angles that are emphasized by a series of contrasts : the bright yellow against the dark background and, in the impact frames, red and black against yellow. As these rays move around, they create a sense of perspective that highlights the composition with the character at the center – this helps create visual flow as the light then comes back on the character who begins morphing. Again, it irradiates light in all directions as it slowly takes the form of a unicorn. But while the unicorn’s body takes on circular shapes, it’s still shining and the bolts of light still flash everywhere across the frame.
As the unicorn flies away, it produces smoke ; the shape of the smoke is pretty interesting as well, since it starts in a triangular fashion, then after an impact frame, it quickly moves away from the camera. The smoke effects and the rays of light contrast against each other (dark smoke/bright light, circular/straight trajectories) to create even more dynamism. The key idea behind this cut is geometry : these very bold shapes are what Kanada is famous for.
However, Kanada was also immensely creative, and he did not limit himself to just one kind of effects. In opposition to his geometrical style, he also developed what I’d call “liquid fire” which plays on a very different impression : see this cut from Arcadia of My Youth. As the ship on the right explodes, the flashing green light takes on the very straight shapes that are characteristic of his geometrical style. But the explosion itself starts as just a circle, before going off in all directions. Straight white vanishing lines accompany the eye into depth, following the other ship’s movement, but what’s really impressive here is the movement of the flames.
As he often does, Kanada creates movement just with color : yellow, orange, black, and a brighter white flare effect. The colors form large spans that move irregularly, like waves, in all directions along the surface of the frame. The impression given here is not that of fire, but rather of liquid magma. Rather than an explosion and flames, it’s more like another scene of morphing where fire takes on a life of its own and transforms into some sort of beast. The way he gives his animation its own autonomy, as if it were running without control, is one of the traits of Kanada’s genius.